Biggest obstacle to acceptance of VoIP may be regulatory

The pace, curiosity and interest about voice over IP in Canada from our corporate clients is certainly increasing. Many are wondering not only what VoIP really is, but more importantly, what it means to their organizations in terms of the challenges it presents and the potential benefits it offers.

What I find particularly interesting is the greatest benefits discovered are generally from areas they had not planned for or initially expected. In most instances, the productivity improvements gained were from the new features or applications that the VoIP equipment supported and less from displacing traditional voice telephony applications or equipment. They all said that they had to improve their LAN, and sometimes WAN, infrastructure to reliably provide voice transport.

Many corporations, however, may not be aware of the upcoming Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission VoIP application and the surrounding applications and pending decisions. We believe this filing is particularly important in that it is the first major regulatory application to consider VoIP technology within the Canadian regulatory environment.

It is critical to provide a supportive and fair framework that encourages competition regardless of the network media, whether telecom, cable or wireless. It is important that innovative, advanced technology solutions. such as VoIP, not be hindered by cumbersome, archaic frameworks based on outdated technologies or regulatory measures.

The preliminary comments from the regulators and carriers about comparing VoIP long distance to the PSTN long distance are not realistic from a business person’s viewpoint. Consider, for example, a business user of VoIP, who only uses it within her office’s local area network or occasionally to send network-based voice mail message to a remote consultant. How is that person supposed to monitor, manage or pay for the portions of the packets on her network that may be voice or long-distance related?

How will the carriers know which packets are voice versus e-mail versus video traffic, and how will they invoice her as a business customer? I don’t think the carriers or regulators have thought through these questions, and yet they are proposing to regulate this emerging technology.

One of the benefits of IP-based technologies is the ubiquity of the network and its ability to transport packets disregarding media type, so will this go out the window with the proposed VoIP regulations?

We believe if the regulations are not properly conceived and implemented, they could hinder the deployment and advancement of VoIP technology in Canada, in addition, Canadian businesses (both customer and suppliers) could be prevented from being able to have the advanced VoIP applications and the associated benefits we have discovered from our own experience.

Roberta Fox is the founder of the Fox Group, a Markham, Ont.-based analyst and management consulting company specializing in telecommunications and call centres.

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